SLATINA, Kosovo -- Two weeks after the first NATO peacekeepers arrived in Kosovo, the first military aircraft landed here Saturday at the province's main airport, which NATO commanders said could soon open to regular flights.
A hulking Russian cargo plane touched down at 1:19 p.m., followed moments later by a French C-130 in what was an orchestrated effort to highlight the cooperation of Russian and allied troops after the diplomatic standoff caused when a contingent of Russians occupied the airport on June 12, hours before NATO's forces started streaming into Kosovo.NATO's commander in Kosovo, Lt. Gen. Michael Jackson, appeared at the airport with his Russian counterpart, Col. Gen. Viktor Zavarzin, and both pledged to work together toward peace in Kosovo.
Jackson said that once NATO ferries in the necessary radar and other equipment to get the airport functioning over the next week, regular military flights could begin, followed by relief flights and, eventually, commercial ones.
"This is all part of bringing Kosovo back to normality," Jackson said.
The opening of the airport, located about 10 miles west of the capital, Pristina, should help speed the deployment of sorely needed troops, equipment and relief supplies.
The airport is opening under the terms of an agreement reached in Finland a week ago between American and Russian ministers that resolved the embarrassing impasse created when the Russians used their de facto control of the airport as leverage in securing a role for Russia in NATO's operation.
The agreement itself reflects the lingering wariness between NATO and Russia, which was evident when Russian troops refused for a time to let British troops enter the airport to prepare for the news conference. Under the agreement, the first 12 military flights are evenly divided between NATO and Russian aircraft.